Just as the season for blockbuster sequel movies rolls around, fans of the talented graphic novelist Joann Sfar have a reason to cheer. The loquacious Rabbi’s cat is back, along with the Rabbi’s strikingly beautiful daughter, his son-in-law, cousin Malka the storyteller and his tame lion, and a cast of new characters, including a Muslim sheikh (another cousin), and a lost Russian painter. While the Rabbi is away on business his cat accompanies Malka and the lion as they make their way around the villages of Northern Africa. They sleep under the stars, and the cat and lion engage in existential discussions with a poisonous snake. Malka, who makes only a brief appearance in the first Rabbi’s Cat book, is a wonderfully complex character whose secrets are revealed through the eyes of the cat. Back in Algiers, the Rabbi’s daughter and her new husband are having marital difficulties, and Algerian Jews in the 1930’s are facing growing anti-Semitism. A Russian painter, en route to discover the black Jews of Ethiopia, winds up stranded in the care of the Rabbi. The Rabbi assembles a company of travelers and they set out to help the Russian find his inspiration. A near-death experience enables the cat not only to regain his ability to speak to humans, but the ability to speak multiple languages. Along the way, the companions experience violence, death, camaraderie, spirituality, and love, all depicted in Sfar’s expressive and colorful watercolors. A little darker than the first Rabbi’s Cat, but equally as enthralling, this second showing will leave readers hoping for an encore.
Wendy Wasman is the librarian & archivist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, Ohio.